Universal Credit risks leaving some workers’ financial stability hanging in the balance

money graphicUniversal Credit could risk adding to the financial instability of low-income workers, with those who are self-employed likely to come under the most pressure, new research from Citizens Advice finds.

Today the charity has released two new reports on Universal Credit, examining the impact of work allowance cuts on people’s budgets, and why its design can leave self-employed workers at a financial disadvantage.

Citizens Advice analysis shows a self-employed worker who receives Universal Credit could be worse off by £630 a year compared to an employee on the benefit, even if their year-end earnings are identical.

The report highlights issues with the Minimum Income Floor, a rule that assumes everyone claiming Universal Credit who has been self-employed for a year or more is earning the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

If they earn less than the NMW one month, their Universal Credit payment won’t make up the difference. But if their monthly earnings go over the NMW, their benefit payment will be reduced accordingly.

The charity says this design flaw is unfair and risks causing financial hardship as self-employed workers often earn different amounts from one month to the next.

One family helped by Citizens Advice had to visit a food bank as a result of having less money to pay their bills because of the Minimum Income Floor. In order to boost their Universal Credit payment, the father was forced to give up his computing business and stop work altogether, while the mother cut short her maternity leave to return to work.

The second report finds that employees could also be at risk of financial insecurity when they move to Universal Credit. In 2015, the Government announced a series of cuts to the benefit which will result in 2.1m working households receiving less money under Universal Credit compared to the old benefit system.

One of the biggest cuts was to the work allowance, resulting in workers seeing a reduction in the amount of hours they can work before their Universal Credit payment starts to decrease.

Citizens Advice asked 877 people across the country receiving in-work benefits how they would cope with a £100 drop in their monthly income, roughly the average amount affected households stand to lose from the reduced work allowance.

One in four workers (26%) said they would not be able to top up their income through employment even though they might need to, with 1 in 3 (33%) of those saying this is because they work full-time already.

Caring responsibilities (23%) and having a disability (18%) were other reasons workers gave for not being able to make up the £100 shortfall through work.

Universal Credit is currently being rolled out, and the number of claimants is set to double over the next year, increasing by 1.2 million. A final completion date has been set for 2022, at which point an estimated 7.2 million households will be claiming Universal Credit – 3.9 million of them in work.

The charity is calling for the Government to review both the lowered work allowance and the Minimum Income Floor to give workers better financial security and ensure they are incentivised to progress in work.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Despite the labour market changing significantly in the last decade, including a rapid rise in self-employment, Universal Credit is still better suited to those with regular jobs.

“The Government has shown it is prepared to act to improve Universal Credit as new facts come to light – an approach we strongly support.

“It now needs to look again at the design of the benefit to ensure self-employed and agency workers aren’t left at a financial disadvantage.

“It should also reassess the work allowance reductions to ensure workers who can’t increase their income through employment aren’t left struggling to make ends meet, while better incentivising those who can.

“A failure to do this risks undermining two of the core purposes of Universal Credit – to incentivise people to move into and progress in work, and provide low-income families with financial security.”

Fundraising Concert

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St Peters Band – Our European Friends – with special guests

St Peters by the Waterfront – Saturday March 17th 7:30pm

Tickets: stpetersbythewaterfront.com £6 advance / £8 on the door

Supporting Ipswich Citizens Advice

Recruiting: Financial Management Portfolio holder, Trustee

Ipswich Citizens Advice is an independent, community-based charity staffed largely by volunteers who provide free, confidential, independent and impartial advice to everybody regardless of race, gender, disability or sexuality. Its aims are:

  • to ensure that individuals do not suffer through lack of knowledge of their rights and responsibilities, or of the services available to them, or through an inability to express their needs effectively.
  • to exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services both locally and nationally.

We are seeking someone who can offer the skills relevant to financial oversight of a small bureau (with an annual budget of approx. £300,000). We require a treasurer who can demonstrate commitment and integrity in advising the board on the financial health of the organisation. Responsibilities include presentation of the management accounts at board meetings, and advising on the corrective action that may be required when difficulties arise.

So if: –

  • You want to help the community where you study, live or work?
  • You believe in social justice and want to help change things for the better?
  • You want to make sure you and your neighbours get the advice you need now and in the future?
  • You have skills that you can put to other uses?
  • You want to get involved in running a small but influential and important charity?

Please consider joining us.

We can offer you opportunities that you might not be able to get elsewhere: –

  • Developing new skills.
  • Personal development.
  • Learning how an organisation works.
  • Giving something back to their community.

Ipswich Citizens Advice is a voluntary organisation. All volunteers are fully trained and supported by a paid staff structure.

We are an equal opportunities employer and strive to achieve diversity in all that we do.

For more information or an informal discussion on the role, please contact:

Email: via the contact form on this site.
Postal address: 19 Tower Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3BE
Telephone number: 01473 219770

Trustee Recruitment Information 2018

Citizens Advice Ipswich expects 31st of January to be year’s busiest day for debt advice

The last day of January is expected to be the busiest day of the year for people seeking help with their debts, according to Citizens Advice Ipswich.

Analysis of national data from the past 12 months reveals that on 31 January 2017 Citizens Advice helped 2,800 people, 30 per cent above the daily average.

This means one person sought help from Citizens Advice every 10 seconds.

30 January was the most popular day for seeking advice online, with twice as many page views as average for the rest of the year.

Locally, Citizens Advice Ipswich is expecting around 100 people to seek advice on debt throughout the first month of the year.

Citizens Advice Ipswich provided assistance to people seeking help for a wide variety of debt concerns, including gas and electricity bills, rent and council tax arrears, and credit card debt and loans.

To help people kick off 2018 on a stronger financial footing, Citizens Advice Ipswich is sharing its six top tips to help people get their finances in order for the New Year.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Officer of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“There is a surge in demand for our debt advice towards the second half of January.”

“Christmas in particular can take a heavy toll on people already struggling to make their money last and leave them with a debt burden in the New Year. But this needn’t become a crisis – problems can be taken care of if you seek advice early.”

“The New Year is a good time to get on top of your debts, cut your costs or budget better. Citizens Advice can help you review your situation so you can make decisions that improve your financial security.”

Citizens Advice Ipswich’s six top tips to sort out your debts:

1. Work out how much you owe – Make a list of who you owe money to and add up how much you need to pay each month. If you don’t have your most recent statements, contact your creditor to find out what you owe.

2. Prioritise your debts – Your rent or mortgage, energy and council tax are called priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them. These should always be paid first. Separate these and work out how much you owe.

3. Work out how much you can pay – Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and housing, and taking away these from your income. Any money you have spare can be put towards your debts. Citizens Advice budgeting tool can help.

4. Paying urgent debts – You may have several priority debts and can’t pay them all. Contact all your creditors to find out if you can negotiate on how much you pay, or when you pay them. Always pay first priority creditors who are taking action against you.

5. Paying non-urgent debts – If you have any money left after paying priority debts, consider getting a free debt-management plan. You’ll make one monthly payment to the plan provider, who will handle paying your creditors. Or contact your creditors and offer them what you can afford to pay.

6. If you can’t pay your debts – If you’ve got little or no money spare to pay your priority debts seek advice from us straight away.

For more information and help, look at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/help-with-debt/

Citizens Advice Ipswich warns people of getting tied into subscriptions

Citizens Advice Ipswich is warning people about getting stuck with subscriptions after new research reveals people are wasting hundreds of pounds on them when they’re no longer wanted.

Analysis of 500 cases reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service between June and August 2017 finds people lost an average of £160 from subscriptions they wanted to cancel, but weren’t able to.

Citizens Advice Ipswich is now sharing tips on how to avoid getting tied into a subscription and will be taking part in National Consumer Week – a campaign to help people understand their consumer rights which launches on Monday 27 November.

The analysis from national Citizens Advice reveals that companies can make it hard to cancel a subscription with 9 in 10 people prevented from doing so after initially asking. Common reasons for turning down a cancellation include being told to use a specific method, like the phone, or to give more than a month’s notice.

People also reported not being made aware they had signed up for a subscription in the first place, or that their contract would continue on an auto renewal basis.

With subscriptions now being offered across a range of goods and services, from beauty products to TV streaming, Citizens Advice Ipswich is urging people to check the small print before they sign up to one.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, businesses can’t enforce terms on consumers that are unfair.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said:

“People can be made to feel like they’re going round in circles when trying to cancel a subscription.”

“This research shows that companies are continuing to cash in on unwanted subscriptions by blocking people’s cancellation on the grounds of a technicality. It’s important for people to read any terms and conditions before signing up to a subscription, but they should also be on the lookout for companies who are deliberately throwing obstacles in their way when they try to cancel.”

“Anyone who needs advice on how to cancel a subscription, or runs into difficulty doing so, should contact us for further help.”

Need to know tips about subscriptions

Check what your cancellation rights are
Each supplier can set their own cancellation policy and they don’t need to offer you a right to cancel your subscription early. Make sure the terms and conditions look reasonable before signing up.

Remember you’ve got a cooling off period if you buy online

If you bought the subscription online, the law says you usually have 14 days to get your money back if you change your mind. However, you might not be able to get a refund if you start using the service straight away.

Follow the cancellation policy

Make sure you follow the cancellation policy set out in your contract when you’re ready to end your subscription. Don’t stop your payment without checking what else is required first – otherwise your subscription may not be cancelled and you could be liable for any missed payments.

Challenge unfair T&Cs

There are no strict definitions for what counts as an unfair policy. But if you’re finding it tough or have to give a long period of notice to cancel a subscription, contact the supplier’s customer services department. If this fails go to the supplier’s trade or complaints body or report to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service.

More people needing help with PIP, says Citizens Advice Ipswich

Citizens Advice Ipswich helped 50% more clients with a problem related to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in the year to 31 March 2017, compared to the previous year.

PIP is a benefit that helps people to meet the extra costs of being disabled or having a long term health condition. For example it allows them to employ a carer who can help them get washed and dressed in the mornings, or to have a mobility scooter so they can travel to work.

Most people who contacted the charity about PIP wanted help to:

  • Make a claim or check their eligibility
  • Challenge the outcome of their assessment decision
  • Take their appeal to tribunal

To receive PIP people must have an assessment to gauge the level of assistance they need but flaws with the system can result in delays in getting an assessment, assessments being offered at inconvenient venues or cancelled at short notice, and some people being wrongly assessed.

The charity saw one client with serious health problems who was given an appointment for a PIP assessment in a town 35 miles away, involving a journey of at least two and a half hours by public transport. Although the client was refused a change of venue when she tried to get it moved, with help from Citizens Advice Ipswich the appointment was rearranged for the local assessment centre, a simple bus journey from the client’s home.

Common problems with the assessment include confusion over what evidence to submit in advance, being rushed for time during the assessment and the wrong information being recorded by assessors.

In total, almost 20,000 people asked Citizens Advice for help with a PIP problem in the year ending March 2017 making it the most common advice issue for the charity. Ipswich dealt with 158 which is over twice the national average.

Nicky Willshere, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich said:

“A wrong PIP assessment decision can lead to people missing out on the everyday support they need.

“The daily reality of living with a disability can often be overlooked during the PIP assessment so it’s important that people know they can try to overturn this decision by asking for a reconsideration or appealing their case at tribunal.”

“Anyone who wants to make a PIP appeal, or has a more general query about the benefit, should contact Citizens Advice Ipswich or Ipswich Disabled Advice Bureau to understand their next steps.”

General information on PIP and other benefits for disabled people or people with long-term health conditions can be found on https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/sick-or-disabled-people-and-carers/pip/

Citizens Advice Ipswich reveals home improvement nightmares

Citizens Advice Ipswich is warning residents to be on the lookout for rogue builders as the national charity reveals it has helped people with 40,000 problems related to home improvements in the last year.

As people make use of the summer to have work done on their homes, Citizens Advice Ipswich is revealing the top three most common building problems people report:

  1. Complaints about the quality of the work carried out, such as using the wrong fixings to secure a TV bracket to a wall so that it fell off the wall, breaking the TV and damaging the plaster
  2. Work being unsafe or faulty, for example a visit from a boiler company that resulted in no hot water, no central heating and two leaks that weren’t there before
  3. Worthless warranties, like that provided by a driveway paving business that came into the area, sold its services to local residents and then disappeared

People contacted Citizens Advice wanting to know how to resolve their home improvement problems and their rights around refunds and compensation.

Citizens Advice Ipswich is offering top tips on how to avoid problems when hiring someone to carry out work, and your rights if things do go wrong.

What to do when hiring a trader:

  • Get references or recommendations – you can either get recommendations from people you know, or use a website that rates traders. If you can’t get a recommendation, you should ask the person you hire for examples of work they have carried out in the past.
  • Find out if they are a member of a trade body – trade bodies have codes of practice and can help resolve problems if things go wrong.
  • Get a written quote – not an estimate, and be clear about what the quote covers. A quote is legally binding and the builder can’t change it without a good reason. An estimate is just a guess at how much the work will cost, and so it could change. You can compare quotes from a number of contractors to make sure you’re getting a fair price.
  • Get a written contract – this should cover timing, payments, who will pay for materials and subcontractors, and what exactly is being done. If you can, you should pay in stages rather than upfront.
  • Keep copies of receipts and your written contract as evidence, as well as photos of any problems which arise.

What to do when things go wrong:

  • Ask the builders to fix the work if the work is not up to scratch or is unfinished.
  • Ask for some money back. Suggest a figure and explain why it is reasonable – for example, you may have to pay to have the work fixed.
  • Complain in writing to the trader or their company, and check to see if they are a member of a trade association to see if they can help.
  • Look for an approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme – this is an independent third party who can help you to reach a resolution. The trader should provide you with the name of a certified scheme.
  • Consider taking the builders to county court. This is a last resort and you should be aware that you will need to pay fees.

Citizens Advice Ipswich Chief Executive Nicky Willshere said:

“Shoddy workmanship and unfinished home improvements are leaving people in Ipswich out of pocket and facing huge disruptions to their lives.”

“Many people have come to Citizens Advice Ipswich in the past year wanting to know how they how they can get refunds or compensation for dodgy building work.”

“If you’ve had a problem with building work, and you’re not sure about your rights or what to do next, visit Citizens Advice Ipswich or call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.”

3 in 1 for Wednesday 27 September from Citizens Advice Ipswich!

  • Ipswich & District Citizens Advice Bureau 43rd Annual General Meeting PLUS
  • Launch of 3Ds Project with ISCRE – our Guide on disability related reasonable adjustments to Universal Credit PLUS
  • Fixing Universal Credit – update from our national campaign – Presentation by Guest Speaker – Afzal Rahman, Principal Policy Researcher from Citizens Advice

I am writing to invite you to the AGM of the Ipswich & District Citizens Advice Bureau. The AGM will be held at 12.00 noon on Wednesday 27th September 2017 in the Meeting Room at 19 Tower Street, Ipswich, IP1 3BE.

We are delighted to be joined by a senior policy researcher from our national Campaigns team who will talk about how the Universal Credit rollout is going for clients across the country and our insight nationally. He will be highlighting our national campaign – We’re pushing hard for a pause in the rollout until the problems which have been identified across Citizens Advice bureaux are resolved.

We are also delighted to launch with ISCRE our jointly produced leaflet on disability related reasonable adjustments to Universal Credit.

Following the AGM I would like to invite you to join us for refreshments.

I would be grateful if you could confirm your attendance beforehand – RSVP via this web site or phone 01473 219770.

If you have any questions or would like more information then please feel free to contact me. I look forward to seeing you at the AGM.

Nicky Willshere

Chief Officer

Right to holiday when employed as a temp

I’ve just been hired by a cafe as a temp covering the busy summer months. My boss says that because I’m a temp, I’m not allowed to take any holiday. Is this right?

Your boss is wrong – as an employee, you’re entitled to take paid holiday regardless of the contract you’re on.

While they can refuse to give you leave at specific times, they can’t refuse you holiday pay altogether. If you can’t take time off during your contract you should receive your holiday pay in a lump sum at the end.

How much holiday you’re allowed depends on the length of your contract, and how many hours you work.

First, check how many hours you’re entitled to by using gov.uk’s calculator. Save a copy of the calculation to refer to.

Then speak with your boss and explain that you are entitled to either annual leave or pay in lieu of your holiday – you can refer to your employment rights on the Citizens Advice website. Give them a copy of your holiday calculation too.

If your boss refuses to give you time off or holiday pay, put your complaint in writing to them.

Should your boss still not give way get in touch with ACAS, the free dispute resolution service that specialises in employment.

For help understanding your rights, approaching the discussion with your boss or taking things further, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.